One of the things that I see regularly on My 600 lb Life is patients who are practically immobile or are completely bedridden. From my vantage point and pretty much anyone else’s, it’s really easy to point out how they screwed up and complain that they are so lazy. Whenever I feel the urge to start pointing out their errors, I remember that Bible verse about the mote in your brother’s eye and the log in your own: it’s easy to point out other’s failings and ignore your own screw-ups.
This is one of the reasons I watch the show: it reminds me of my own errors and how to avoid making them again or just making them worse. These bedridden or almost immobile patients are a constant reminder of how easy it is to get stuck in what feels like an impossible situation. No one plans to become immobile or bedridden, and even though some patients will say “it just happened to me,” barring a serious accident, it didn’t ‘just happen’ to them. It happens when you lower the bar again and again. People get tricked into lowering the bar in what they believe is a temporary solution, but it’s a slippery slope and before they know it, there they are, stuck in a bed or in a wheelchair.
There’s a difference between lowering the bar and backtracking. Backtracking is what happens to a lot of us after the holidays or after we’ve been on vacation. We’ve gotten away from our healthy eating routines and when we go to get back into it, it’s tougher than we thought. I’m a good example of this: over the holidays, I ate a lot of breads, yogurt and other things that are normally not part of my healthy routine, and it’s a big adjustment going back to the way I normally eat. Some things are harder to give up because they were hard to give up the first time (I should know better, but…….) I decided to backtrack a little: I gave up eating the yogurts and cookies but left in some of the other stuff like sweet potato chips and the cornbread because doing it all at once is making it harder than it has to be. Even though I still have bread or chips a couple of times a week (or more to be honest), I’ve gotten rid of the other unhealthy stuff and am working on getting rid of those extra carbs that I don’t need. The breads and chips are on my menu’s Temporary list because they are not going become permanent additions! I am in the process of removing them. I backtracked on my healthy eating routine to build up some stamina and momentum to reach my goal of removing them from my regular grocery list.
Lowering the bar is something different: if I decided that giving up these foods was just too hard and I permanently leave them in a few times a week, that would be lowering the bar on my goals and expectations. Backtracking means I am still working to meet my goal: I just have to work back up to it; Lowering the Bar means I’ve changed my goal to meet my current situation. This is how those immobile patients get stuck being immobile. An example would be going to the grocery store. Many of them have difficulty walking around the store, so rather than huff and puff and keep walking, they opt to use the motorized cart when they shop. They probably tell themselves it’s just until they can walk around the store again, but they don’t change how they eat or how much they walk. If anything, they walk less than before because now when they go shopping, they aren’t walking in the store at all- they are using the motorized cart. It happens at home: they’re in bed and instead of getting up to get something to eat, they just shout for whoever’s home: “Sadie! I’m hongry!” “Hey, Mom! Can I please get something to eat?” “Bailey! Where’s breakfast?” Why? Because getting up and moving is a pain in the butt and just plain painful in general! In a lot of ways, it’s a gut response (to use a really bad but true pun): if it hurts, it’s reflex to ask someone else to do it for you, but in their situations, they really need to get up and move more, as well as stop eating so much. For these immobile patients, unfortunately it’s become second nature to depend on others or depend on a device. They have lowered the bar on their goals and their progress. Grocery shopping now includes using the motorized cart; moving around their house or neighborhood involves using a motorized wheelchair or scooter. They feel everyone staring at them because “I’m too fat to get around” but instead of keeping the goal to be more active and more independent, they lower the bar to avoid going out in public and become even less active. They aren’t working at being more mobile: they have adjusted to their immobility.
I’ve been stuck in a bed due to an injury, and when these patients say it’s awful, I have an idea what they mean. I did a lot of physical therapy to recover from my injury because it was so awful. I also know what it’s like to huff and puff and struggle to get around. In 2012, I went to Disneyland with some friends, and even though it’s always been a lot of walking, I’d never had trouble like I did on that particular trip. Of course, I’d never weighed as much as I did on any other trip either! In 2012, I was about 400 lbs and moving that much weight around the park was seriously painful and difficult. The thought of using one of those motorized scooters was embarrassing, so I did the next least-most embarrassing thing: I ‘watched the bags’ most of the time. We’d take the monorail to the shopping area and I’d sit someplace while everyone else went to see a show or buy something or just do some shopping, and they’d come leave their bags with me and go somewhere else while I just sat there! Embarrassed and disappointed doesn’t come close to describing how I felt. What I took away from that trip wasn’t “I need to figure out how to get around on a scooter” or “how do I get others to do things for me.” If I’d wanted a scooter, I could have had one, and my friends would have been happy to bring me a burger or pretzel or anything I wanted to eat. What I took away from that humiliating experience was “I need to lose some damned weight!” Even though it took me a couple of years to get my act together, the memory of that humiliating trip kept me focused on working on my mobility, even if I wasn’t successful until the end of 2014!
Lowering the bar and backtracking have a lot in common, and backtracking can turn into lowering the bar if you never make progress or if you just plain give up. I can even fool myself into thinking I’m still backtracking- and thereby making progress- if I keep pushing back my ‘goal date’ or scaling back my progress. If I plan to start February without any bread or chips in my diet, but decide to change that to the end of February or I decide to leave in chips for a while longer and then they just never go away, that would be lowering the bar. If I really decide I like sweet potato chips and want to include them permanently, it’s still not a crime. I can eat what I want, but I really need to evaluate my Why for doing it. Am I leaving them in because it’s too hard to give them up, or am I leaving them in because I really like the chips and I can still reach my weight loss goals with them in my diet? If those chips are preventing me from reaching my goals, I need to ask myself “did I just lower the bar on my goals?”
To be fair, most people start off with backtracking, as in “I’ll stop with the sugar for now and I’ll work on the extra carbs later,” but then they never go back to working on those extra carbs, so the carbs stay in their diet and the bar gets lowered by default. They didn’t mean to change their goals or stop working on their progress: it just seems to have ‘happened’ to them. At the risk of sounding like a nag, it happened because they weren’t actively working on it. This is why it’s so hard to eat better and lose weight and be more active: it actually is work! And even if it’s not something you work on daily, it’s something that needs attention on a regular if not weekly basis. It’s not that different from mowing your lawn. You can have automatic sprinklers to keep it watered but other than hiring a gardener, there isn’t an ‘automatic mower’ (at least not yet!) You need to mow your lawn on a regular basis or pay to have someone do it for you- either way, it needs your attention! If you don’t keep it mowed, your neighbors will let you know you need to do something about it.
This is what happens with most of these patients who end up immobile: they keep putting off working on losing weight and being more active until they physically can’t move around anymore, and even then, they do the equivalent of ‘automatic sprinklers’ and have family members feed them and take care of them, but as to doing the work themselves, it doesn’t happen. Without their meaning to do it, they’ve abandoned their goals for healthy eating and being active through simple neglect, much like the lawn that keeps getting longer and shaggier week after week.
This is why we need to be mindful with our goals. It’s one of the reasons I keep a food & activity journal; it’s why I watch reruns of My 600 lb Life; and it’s one of the reasons I maintain this blog. I am very aware of what happens when backtracking turns into lowering the bar through neglect and procrastination. Focusing my attention on a nearly daily basis on what I am eating, how much I am eating, how active I am keeps me from dropping the bar lower or simply avoiding the bar altogether. It’s an easy trap to fall into: one day you’re walking around Fantasyland with your friends and the next day, you’re watching their bags. I can tell you from experience that’s a lonely and painful place to be, even in the Happiest Place on Earth.